Some small hotels have lobby cats. The Lower East Side's Blue Moon Hotel presents the reception area mom.
"What kind of tea do you want? Is it in there?" Rita Settenbrino asks while I sort through a small continental breakfast buffet that has only decaffeinated tea bags. "If they don't have what you're looking for, they'll find it for you."
"Larry!" she calls out, looking for the front-desk clerk. "Can you find this nice young man some tea?" she asks before extolling the curative powers of her chicken soup.
It's understandable why Mrs. Settenbrino mollycoddles the Blue Moon's guests (I hadn't identified myself as a reporter): Her son, Randy, spent five years transforming the former Orchard Street tenement into one of Manhattan's more captivating new small hotels.
Manhattan will always have its sprawling, soulless mega-hotels. And if you like staying at a Hyatt or a Hilton, that's fine. But a number of New York innkeepers have decided in the last few years that some of us might want something other than Room 29768 with express checkout. So they have started building -- sometimes from the ground up, sometimes by converting existing structures -- and opening more intimate properties.
A few are in off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods. Others are not. But they share a few things: You probably will be recognized at the front desk, and you won't get lost trying to find your tiny, desolate corner of some skyscraper.
Erected in 1879, the Blue Moon was boarded up from the 1930s to 2001, making it a time capsule from Depression-era Manhattan. As part of his renovation, Randy Settenbrino salvaged the tenement's fixtures and artifacts, scattering them and their likenesses throughout his cozy inn.
The Blue Moon's repurposed relics hit you as soon as you walk in: Lobby walls are adorned with etched-marble mantles, the elevator walls are covered with pieces from a tin ceiling and a cast-iron stove has been reworked into a serving table for breakfast (included in the room rates). In the hotel's 22 rooms, salvaged wood has been turned into mirror frames, and the original door and window casings (along with period hinges and knobs) have been incorporated into new double-glazed windows and doors.
Using old Green Stamps that a merchant never gave away to be exchanged for a skillet or roller skates as a background, Settenbrino assembled and hung a number of framed collages organized around various themes. One hallway collage features a young boy's elementary-school handwriting exercises and report cards; another is loaded with sports memorabilia -- an ad for a $4 Babe Ruth baseball mitt, a newspaper clipping with Bill Tilden's 1920 Wimbledon win. Even the DVDs on loan at the front desk are period westerns and Marx Brothers comedies.
The same attention to history is apparent in the spacious (practically colossal by Manhattan standards) guest rooms, all of which are named after early Hollywood stars.
At $450 a night (one step up from the least expensive accommodation), my Jimmy Durante room had a stately wrought-iron queen bed, a dresser, a table and chairs, a night stand, a desk, a small flat-screen TV and free wireless Internet access. The tiled bathroom even had two toothbrushes and toothpaste for those whose toiletries were confiscated by the Transportation Security Administration (but the hotel's flimsy plastic cups felt wrong atop a beautiful porcelain sink).
Many of the inn's rooms are not named after easily recognizable performers. For several hundred dollars more a night, you can stay at the Molly Picon suite ($1,050 for the room named after the "Fiddler on the Roof" star) and take in great views of Wall Street, or the Mickey Katz ($950 for the room dedicated to the Jewish comedian), which looks over the Williamsburg Bridge. The Al Jolson penthouse room ($950) has commanding views of Brooklyn.
Settenbrino hopes to open a bar and restaurant on Blue Moon's ground floor in the coming months, but there are some good food options nearby, including the fantastic ice cream shop Il Laboratorio del Gelato (95 Orchard St.,  343-9922, www.laboratoriodelgelato.com) across the street.
The Blue Moon's biggest selling point -- and also its biggest downside -- is its location. For fans of downtown Manhattan, the Lower East Side holds historic and neighborhood appeal. There aren't throngs of tourists crowding the Lower East Side's sidewalks, and T-shirt shops are few and far between.
The Tenement Museum (97 Orchard St.,  431-0233, www.tenement.org) offers informative walking tours, and it's an easy stroll to Little Italy, Nolita, Chinatown and Soho. But if theater and Midtown museums are on your itinerary, you'll spend a lot of time in cabs and on the subway.
firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Blue Moon Hotel, 100 Orchard St., New York, NY 10002; (212) 553-9080, www.bluemoon-nyc.comCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times